Packers still look good vs. Bears

Last weekend, we almost had four NFL playoff games that made sense. On Saturday, Pittsburgh took care of business at home and beat the Ravens; Aaron Rodgers was able to throw at will against Atlanta’s secondary as the Packers rolled to victory. Sunday afternoon, the Bears beat the Seahawks despite a very interestingly coached fourth quarter.

The moment Bears quarterback Jay Cutler broke the plane of the goal line to make it 21-0 is when I started getting nervous – there are never two blowouts on the same day in the playoffs.

With the Bears winning by so much, I was 3-0 on my picks, and I’m never always right. At that moment it occurred to me that the New York Jets really had a chance to beat the New England Patriots.

How were the Jets able to beat Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks, on the road, in the playoffs? There probably isn’t just one good answer for this question, but it has less to do with what the Jets did defensively than with what these teams did offensively.

New York coach Rex Ryan changed his team’s defensive game plan from being blitz-heavy to almost not blitzing at all. Instead of having to read the rush and find the open guy, Ryan changed the game to reading the coverage of seven or sometimes eight defenders. In both games, this led to the quarterbacks checking off of pass plays at the line on early downs.

At least Manning was without two main options in Dallas Clark and Austin Collie, not to mention his coach botching the fourth quarter. There are less excuses for the Patriots – the Patriots were outplayed and outcoached.

With the early 3-0 lead and driving, the Patriots ran the exact same play they decided to run on the first play of Super Bowl XLII: a screen pass to the running back. In the Super Bowl, Brady was sacked before he could even get a throw off. Sunday, he airmailed BenJarvus Green-Ellis and was promptly picked off.

Brady threw nothing deep to his wide-receivers all day. He never completed a pass that traveled longer than 13 yards to a wide receiver and nothing longer than 20 yards to anyone. The Jets were able to sack him five times, the last time he was sacked that much was Super Bowl XLII.

In the second half it became clear what the game was to the Jets: revenge for 45-3. Remember how the Jets have simplified the playbook for Mark Sanchez? Yeah, well they added all of the complex stuff again. Sanchez didn’t just outplay Brady – he was putting on a show. On one play, Sanchez signaled where he wanted receiver Braylon Edwards to go, and then hit him 35-yards downfield on a corner route. Sanchez turned 10 third downs into four first downs and two touchdowns. If this wasn’t the best game of his career, what is?

*The Picks: *
Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears: If there’s one thing I can claim I got right in this column, it’s picking the Packers. This worries me a little bit considering that the Bears are at home and have the special teams advantage in Devin Rodgers. Still, Rodgers was in that crazy “Beast Mode” last week that Marshawn Lynch likes to talk about. It’s going to be a close game, but I’m gonna dance with the gal that brought me. *
The pick: Packers. *

New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Jets are coming off the second most important win in franchise history and will be attempting to play their third straight Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger. But it’s the other quarterback vs. defense matchup that will likely decide this game. The blueprint to beat the Jets’ man coverage is out there for the Steelers offense (here’s looking at you, Drew Coleman). If Sanchez can have a better game than Joe Flacco did against the Steelers last week, it could put the Jets in the Super Bowl. But, uh, everyone already knows how I feel about Sanchez on the road. At least this time, he’s facing a legitimately great defense. *
The pick: Steelers.

Record: 3-5.*


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